Notes for a Baptism Sermon ~ Trinity 7
I’m thinking of all those poor people in the village of Whaley Bridge I know it quite well….
They have had to move out - not able to return to their homes - everything they have is there, including pets. If the dam breaks, everything will be washed away or submerged in an instant. It’s happened before - the nearby Ladybower reservoir has a village underneath it - (spires) The Chinese did it in the Yangtze valley. But this would be an accident - and that has happened in Italy - Val di Stava Dam collapse occurred on 19 July 1985. 263 people died as a village was swept away. It’s serious. It’s man against nature - maths against the forces of gravity and energy. The force of water can be terrifying, destructive, deadly.
It must be terrible to wait and wonder what will happen. Everything they have is there. There is much treasure stored up there - treasures that are financial, emotional, private, personal, public, physical and mental.
Such a situation helps us reflect on what is important in life. If you lived there and had 15 mins access to your house - what would you take? We all have lots of stuff. What would you rescue from a flood?
Our gospel reading also helps us reflect on what is important in life. The rich man has loads of stuff. He has built his life around his stuff – he has to build an even bigger barn, and then he relaxes. How many of us build our lives around our stuff? But no-one lives for ever.
‘Take care’, says Jesus: ‘Be on your guard against all kinds of greed, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions’.
So, what really matters?
Of course, it is people. People are priceless - obviously it is life that is coming before possessions in this unfolding fearsome situation. Many people don’t liv their lives as though other people are the most important thing - but when push comes to shove - when a dam is being pushed or shoved, we wake up to reality.
I sometimes wonder if the shoring up of the Derbyshire Dam isn’t also in some way symbolic of our current national life - everyone is trying to avert disaster!
But it is so easy to lose sight of what really matters - and that is what happens in the parable - the rich man has lost sight of what is important - that is - his relationship with God. That is the most important thing - relationship with God. Because it takes us beyond the life we know and love here and now. Our relationship with God points us beyond the now, beyond the breaking dams of our lives, our relationship with God is what carries us through and beyond as we ride the waves of inevitable human destiny.
And, speaking of waves and water, and relationship with God, that is what today’s baptism of Cooper is all about too. Today we baptise him - not in waves of a bursting dam but in fresh, cleansing holy water. This is water that gives him life - eternal life. We are clothing him in a new self. And it marks the beginning of his relationship with God.
The story Jesus tells about a rich man who neglects his relationship with God, is so fitting today as we mark the beginning of young Cooper’s relationship with God.
Water brings death and it brings life. It is a terrifying, and life-giving force. Here we use it in small, safe doses! But even that points us to forces greater than ourselves, to our need for protection, salvation, hope and faith, and indeed love. All of this we pour into the font, in prayer to God our heavenly Father.
And with it we baptise Cooper, praying that God will bless, renew, sustain, protect and love him all the days of his life. It is a relationship of faith, hope and love which begins today and will last him longer than he lives. It’s a relationship we all can and do have. Parents and Godparents – it’s your job to make sure he knows about this and recognises that as a human being he is someone who is created by God, loved by God, in need of God, and saved by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. You are the custodians of his faith - guard it well, nurture it, water it, and watch it grow and flourish.
As St Paul puts it: ‘Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth’.
For in an instant things can change, like a dam collapsing. Let us all be prepared and make sure we are standing on safe ground, rooted in love, and hope and faith.
The Rev'd Dr Gordon Giles, St Mary Magdalene, Enfield, 04/08/19